As last year began, I posted the now traditional list of breweries to watch out for in 2014. Looking back, picking Williams Bros to have a big year based on their plans was a fairly safe bet – but the opening of Drygate has gone better than they could have hoped for (at least in my experience, and of others I’ve spoken to who have been there). Pretty much all of the other choices also produced fantastic beer.
The British brewing scene continues to be in good health – and for that, we have to thank the men and women making our beer; for their skill, commitment and imagination. Here, then, is a list of Scottish and English breweries who I think will move to that next level over the course of 2015, or who have interesting stories to watch (with apologies to producers in other parts of the UK, who’s scenes I know less well)…
Tempest – When it comes to my overall pick to take the next step in 2015, there’s simply no competition. Tempest finally – finally – have all the pieces in place to move on and really become players in the UK beer scene. That most important piece; the long-awaited new brewery, is in place giving them ten-times the capacity of the old. Added to this is Tempest’s re-brand that took place in August, giving them a cleaner look. When you factor in the beers (particularly their new and growing saison line) there are few producers making a more solid range, across every style. The upcoming Borders Rail Link is even set to terminate a hundred metres from their Tweedbank facility. 2015 is going to be Tempest’s year.
Forth Bridge Brewery – It’s almost two years since I first wrote about Dave Robertson’s plans for a brewery in the shadow of the Forth Bridge, and still no sign of the facility appearing in South Queensferry. Well, apart from a couple of photos on Twitter and then the a release of a sprawling proposal that wouldn’t look out of place amidst the wharves of San Francisco. Last year’s main FBB news was the addition of a distilling arm, set to produce whisky, gin and vodka; as well as beer – 110,000 litres a week. Another funding campaign is set for February, before the site is slated to open in September 2015. Dave’s faced plenty of battles so far – but if his facility doesn’t open this year, you have to wonder if it ever will.
Eden Mill – The Eden Brewery, St Andrews always felt to me as if they had something of a crisis of identity. Sometimes confused with the Eden Brewery in Cumbria; and othertimes with the St Andrews Brewing Company. But a subtle move towards embracing the pull of spirits has given Eden a new individuality. The Eden Mill Brewery and Distillery are now clear of purpose and image, and I think they are set for big things over the next twelve months. With Paul Miller behind them, it was always a matter of time before they moved to producing hardier stuff than beer, and this dual-wield approach is becoming one of the trends within the industry. Eden Mill, as they are now, are positioned right at the front.
Lerwick Brewery – Brewing on Shetland has to be one of the most challenging propositions in the industry; there isn’t really a market like it in the UK. Sonny Priest’s Valhalla Brewery on Unst gained competition in mid-2013 with the arrival of the Lerwick Brewery, and with a flurry of announcements at the close of last year, 2015 could be the time when people in a much larger catchment area get to hear their name. Within a short space of time, Lerwick signed distribution deals that, like a game of Risk, moved their beers Scotland-wide, then UK-wide, and then into Tesco. Bold stuff for a brewery with three core beers located on an island as logistically challenging as Shetland. Will it pay off?
Brewmeister – Yes, Brewmeister. Everyone’s favourite ‘is it or isn’t it’ brewery have got an important twelve months ahead. Forgetting all the controversy of last year; as they have clearly knuckled down and gone straight, there’s nothing to hide behind but the beer. Employing a head brewer, going through a management shuffle, and systematically changing recipes – it looks as if Brewmeister are now hoping to win out purely based on the product of their brewing vessels. It’s going to be interesting to see how they’ll get on – can they win back people who may have been put off previously? Will the new-taste combine with the new-look to mean new markets? Time will tell…
Carbon Smith – Picobrewing is where it’s at; bedroom breweries are seemingly springing up all over Scotland. And why not? It gets your beers to market without rolling the dice on contracting, and your name is out there instantly. For those who’s primary goal isn’t to make a colossal profit at the end of year one, it’s now a viable proposition. Carbon Smith are the first bedroom brewer to scale up to their own facility (albeit one that measures 16ft x 8ft). But the beers emanating from it so far have been incredible. As the pico- model becomes more prominent, everyone thinking of taking the plunge will be keeping an eye on Carbon Smith’s progression.
Burning Sky – I’m not sure if there was an English brewery (aside from maybe Buxton) who generated more of a steadily-rising buzz amongst the beer community last year than Burning Sky. Mark Tranter’s project in East Sussex produced some astonishing beers in 2014, particularly their barnstorming saisons. With their weighty foudres still being left to quietly do their thing, Mark’s website states “…it is not envisaged that the full extent of Burning Sky will be apparent for another 2 or 3 years.” But the secret is already out, and beer drinkers up and down the country will know their name long, long before then. There’s not an English producer I look forward to enjoying more this coming year, than Burning Sky.
Siren Craft Brew – Well, maybe it’s a tie with Siren, at least. Finchampstead’s finest are one of those rare breweries, in that they have never, ever let me down. As with Burning Sky, all of their new releases are must-purchases, irrespective of format. This coming year should be a big one for Siren Craft Brew; they celebrate their second birthday in March with a festival of barrel-aged beers (featuring their 2015 Maiden), and anyone who possesses more than a passing interest in collaborations will have marked the new Rainbow Project, as the pairings fully go transatlantic. Siren also just announced the addition of a dry-hopped Berliner Weisse to their core range. I haven’t written a more exciting paragraph than that for some time…
Roosters – Why aren’t Roosters better known? This, to me, is one of the British beer questions I just can’t understand. They make phenomenal beer, both traditional and modern in style. Their pale ales are every bit as good as Oakhams, or those from Fyne Ales. Their branding is brilliant, classic whilst being eye-catching. And the Fozardii are the nicest couple of guys you could ever hope to meet. Maybe it’s the Yorkshire thing – the sheer number of nearby competitors, and the colossal amount of outlets in the region; I don’t know. Anyway, Roosters are a sensational brewery, and to me seem permanently on the verge of a breakout year. Let’s hope that 2015 is that for them. Maybe launching canned beer will make the difference?
Northern Monk – Staying in Yorkshire, we have a brewery that is surely set for that breakout year. After a prolonged period of contracting, Northern Monk finally were able to open their own brewery a few months ago, and in the short time since have built on that considerable wave of support. This is undoubtedly down to several reasons – not the least of which are the fantastic beers they have released, right out of the gate. But, also, it’s because they have embraced (and been embraced by) the city of Leeds; their twenty-tap NMBCo Refectory has quickly become a go-to addition to the scene in this beer-mad city. As they bed in to their new location, expect great things from Northern Monk this year.
Almasty – Finally, we end this lightning-tour of premonitions in the North-East, and with yet another hugely exciting prospect. Mark McGarry, ex-Mordue and ex-Tyne Bank, is one seriously talented brewer, and the chance to head out into the wide world of brewing and produce his own recipes was too big to resist. The ‘Wild One’ (to which Almasty apparently refers) dialled up a stunning brown ale – what else – for his debut beer, and in year of wave after wave of saisons, his Sorachi-hopped version really stood out as well. Now he’s had a bit of time to take stock of the new challenge, 2015 is going to be the year Almasty become impossible to ignore.
So, what do you think? Any breweries out there who you think will have breakout years in 2015, or have stories that you really want to follow? Let me know in the comments. As ever, I’ll be checking back with these eleven breweries at the mid-way point of the year, to see how they have been getting on…